SA companies get creative to attract young ICT talent
The need for more tech-savvy employees, who possess the required skill sets to effectively work in dynamic, highly technical environments, has increased exponentially. ‘However, while Africa offers boundless opportunities within the ICT space, there is a critical skills shortage, particularly in South Africa when compared to our counterparts across Africa,’ explains Tim Kroon, General Manager of Resourcing at Entelect. ‘With a youth unemployment rate of more than one-third of young South Africans, mainly as a result of a lack of skills, we are seeing some compelling efforts from the private sector to improve ICT education levels and attract more young people to a field that provides opportunities across every business sector.’
‘Various companies and institutions have set up ICT-focussed educational funds and charities, skills development programmes and upskilling incentives,’ says Kroon. Among the most successful of these is Entelect’s annual R100K Challenge, supported by partners Sony Mobile and NAG magazine. Now in its fourth year, the R100K Challenge hopes to encourage students to pursue a career in ICT, as well as help professional programmers to continuously learn and develop their own skills. Kroon elaborates, ‘There are specific skills required to take part in a challenge such as this, which we hope will encourage more young people to improve their skills within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, with a view towards entering the ICT skills arena once their studies are complete.’
Kroon goes on to explain that the R100K Challenge plays an important role in attracting people to the local development community. He says that it presents a compelling incentive to student or novice coders and professional developers alike. This year, the R100K Challenge’s retro-gaming theme of Space Invaders is specifically designed to test the artificial intelligence (AI) skills of entrants in a face-off competition, where candidates are required to write the code for their own designed bot. ‘The necessary skills to win the R100K Challenge are relevant to the industry at large. Winning requires not only the ability to write the code, but also to think strategically. Entrants will need to engage their skills of critical analysis and a structured process of testing and optimisation,’ says Kroon. As the competition grows each year, so it is modified to cater to its entrants. For example, this year the Player Portal has been launched. Here, players are able to upload their code and test it properly, offering the chance to iron out any flaws. These elements are reflective of the industry and could help prepare entrants for making the leap into the marketplace of software engineering, where professionals are primarily responsible for writing, designing and testing of computer programs.
With the global ICT industry now producing trillions of rands’ worth of value within a myriad of industries, Kroon says that it is Entelect’s hope that the increasingly popular R100K Challenge will continue to encourage and introduce more young people to the field of programming and development, and that it will highlight the massive opportunities for them in this essential industry. ‘Choosing to study within the field of ICT disciplines puts students at a great advantage when entering the marketplace, while simultaneously improving South Africa’s capabilities and economic outlook,’ says Kroon. ‘There are significant professional benefits to mastering computer programming topics, such as logic, patterns and problem solving. For students moving into computer science at tertiary level, having a background or introduction to computer programming at a high-school level will, of course, be a distinct advantage.’
The increase in local skills will play an important role in enhancing South Africa’s competitiveness on the global ICT stage. This will promote job creation and the opportunity for South Africa to ensure the country is able to depend on its own local products and services to meet its ICT needs, rather than outsourcing skills from other countries. It may even create the capacity for South Africa to export these skills. Kroon concludes, ‘This ability will drastically improve our economic outlook in the age of the knowledge economy, and as such, we encourage other public sector organisations to take part in the drive to attract young people to our industry, through supporting existing incentives and programmes or creating their own.’